1. Mangoes at Westgrove
The Philippines has no dearth of funny signs, which is a credit to the Filipinos’ incredibly wry and resilient sense of humor. This is a sign I saw recently that made me laugh out loud. It’s a sign posted at Westgrove, a subdivision in the South (far South actually ”“ Laguna!), which is about a 1½ hour drive from Makati.
There aren’t too many houses yet at Westgrove, so the area is breathtakingly lush. There are countless mango trees dotting the field at the rear of the subdivision, so many in fact, that I might as well have picked a few dozen and no one would have been the wiser. I found out later on that the Westgrove administration sells the mangoes at the Clubhouse, thus the sign. It’s the height of summer right now in the Philippines, the season when mangoes are the star. And everyone knows the Philippines has the BEST mangoes in the world. (Miss, your unabashed pride is showing.)
Speaking of unabashed pride, I just had to post this photo. It’s a man-made lake adjacent to the mango trees. The area is hidden by a hill so you can imagine how I sucked in my breath when I saw this. In a city run by malls and hardly any parks, this was a sight to behold. The residents of Westgrove sure are lucky to have something like this right in their backyard…
…and how lucky I am to have my photo taken here.
2. Chawan mushi and beef usuyaki at Tsumura
Tsumura is a fine-dining restaurant that has its origins along Pasay Road in Makati. After commanding a staunch following for 25 years, Tsumura has moved to fancier and thankfully, more spacious digs at the Corporate Center building in Salcedo Village.
Masamichi Tsumura’s eponymous restaurant concentrates only on dishes that are faithfully Japanese — you won’t find any of those East meets West fusion sushis here. (If those are more to your liking, I recommend Omakase).
Among traditional Japanese dishes, the one I look for first is chawan mushi, a savory steamed custard that often holds surprise pieces of chicken, prawn, or mushroom. When done properly, chawan mushi, as all custards should be, trembles with the slightest nudge of the spoon. Once in the mouth, it offers nary a whit of resistance to the pulse of teeth or tongue. It melts without complaint, the essence of mirin (sweet rice wine) lingering. Tsumura does this custard (P250) well, and the bowl (chawan) that it’s served in is beautiful.
A price tag of P510 per dish does little to dissuade Tsumura diners from ordering the beef usuyaki, one of the most popular dishes at the restaurant. Thin slices of beef are rolled around a most succulent combination of garlic, enoki mushrooms, and hold your breath, the fat that has been trimmed from the aforementioned beef slices. It’s so good it’s almost criminal: every bite brings forth a gush of fat immersed in beef juices, the salty-sweet water from the mushrooms, the mellow flavor and smoothness of the garlic slivers. This is as juicy as any good meat can hope to be.
3. The French Corner (formerly Voulez Vous)
There is good food of the Mediterranean sort to be found here at Billy King’s Alabang restaurant. Of course we’re talking about the Billy King, the former executive chef of Le Soufflé and presently of The Manor in Baguio.
This is an indulgent kind of place where foie gras, salmon, and lamb are on the menu, so my good friend, Marge, and I decide to have just those very things. The goose liver salad (P550) possesses a delicately biting sauce reduced with balsamic vinegar and red wine. Melding perfectly with the creaminess of the foie gras, I sop up every last bit of the dish with a crunchy baguette. The accompanying salad gives reprieve from the richness of it all, making me ready for more. It’s times like this that I have to restrain myself from licking the plate. On the day that I am here, the foie gras is a bit tough around the edges, but the sauce is so good that I choose to ignore this fact.
The salmon Paillard sambucca (P495) is, as its name denotes, a thin slice of fish cooked in a velouté sauce heightened with sambuca, a colorless, anise-flavored liqueur from Italy. This fish dish is mildly flavored, with umami accents coming from the mushrooms placed atop.
While the fish is Marge’s dish, I go all out and order the lamb rack (P850), one of the restaurant’s specialties. It doesn’t photograph well I admit, since the pink center is a bit off-putting, but it’s the only way to eat lamb, cooked just ”˜til it hits medium-rare. This is when lamb is at its juiciest, the meat requiring just a gentle tug from the knife. The sides of the lamb are encrusted in a most appealing mixture of pepper and herbs. As Marge quickly finishes her salmon, she watches me nibble and gnaw at the lamb bones. “God, you’re really working that thing,” she says, her face a mixture of amusement and mock horror.
Good food notwithstanding, The French Corner is a restaurant that I feel suffers from some sort of identity crisis. Marge describes it as “misshapen” since she tells me the structure was originally meant to house a Country Waffles. The facade is this sort of ensaymada (yeast butter roll) yellow accented with concrete (???). Once inside, the décor that greets is decidedly country-style, as evidenced by the wicker furniture and printed tablecloths. While the interiors are a big question mark, this restaurant is worth a trip to Alabang ”“ the service is faultless, and since not too many people know about this restaurant (would you venture into a place that’s ensaymada yellow?), you can have all the privacy you want.
The French Corner
Commerce Avenue corner Filinvest Avenue
Westgate Center, Filinvest Corporate City
Alabang, Muntinlupa City
See fellow blogger Anton’s post for more photos and info.
4. Jill Sandique’s Concorde
The cake, not the super jet, this pastry was said to have been the brainchild of a pastry chef in the 1970’s. He put his own twist to the trends then by using chocolate mousse as a filling instead of the oft-used buttercream, and he employed chocolate meringue instead of a ho-hum sponge cake to create the quintessential layered dessert. The result is a sweet union of crisp meringue and velvety mousse.
Prior to Jill’s giving me this Concorde, I didn’t particularly care for this type of cake –I’m not crazy about chocolate mousse or meringue. But I don’t turn away dessert, so I eat this in good faith, and my god, what a revelation.
The Concorde’s dense appearance belies its terrific texture, fragmenting into a million shards in the mouth. Once the initial rush of sugar subsides, the smoky overtones of good quality chocolate resonate, and I find myself drawing my fork to the cake for another bite, and then another… This cake is one ethereal combination of meringue and fudge. God bless, this Concorde cake will take you to paradise faster than the real Concorde will!
By the way, if you’re still not convinced, Jill also makes that phenomenal pistachio sans rival, which may be more your thing.
Jill Sandique of DÃ¨lize
33 Sunrise Drive, Cubao, Quezon City
721-7022 (ask for Lea, Mimi, or Vangie)
Allow a minimum of 2-3 days for your order(s).
5. Brooklyn Pizza
My Bin has all the numbers of the pizza delivery places available for easy access in his XDA. Sunday night is often our “takeout night.”Pizza is one thing we don’t agree on because I love thick crust and he prefers thin. So like all good couples, we compromise: this time around he’ll have his way, and next time we order a pizza, I’ll get my thick one. Fortunately, I chance upon Brooklyn Pizza one Sunday night, and shove the flyer in my Bin’s face just as he’s reaching for his XDA.
Owned by George Kho, this is a 3-year old local operation that began in BF Homes, ParaÃ±aque. Kho purports to make New York pizzas — doughy, hand-tossed behemoths that are 18-inches in diameter (the usual pie size here in the Philippines is 14-inches). Brooklyn Pizza uses a raised crust which is a tad thicker than the typical thin crust but which isn’t as thick as say, Pizza Hut’s pan pizza. (Ah, compromise!) The pizza itself isn’t overloaded with stuff, and strikes a happy balance between crispy and chewy-crunchy.
My Bin and I like the 3-flavor pizza: pepperoni; sausage and mushroom; and the best-selling 3-cheese ”“ mozzarella, ricotta, Parmesan, and some garlic for that “pizza breath,” the solid indicator of a good pizza. Brooklyn Pizzas cost under P500 each for an 18-incher. There are only 10 flavors available, and they have simpler flavors too, for those who don’t like an amalgam of toppings on their pie (just like me). I like the anchovy and garlic, and the plain, an un-fancy mixture of Parmesan cheese, mozzarella, and the house red sauce, which is made from real tomatoes.
Take out and delivery only
Allow 45 minutes++ for delivery.
6. Salpicao wraps at Mezze
An acquaintance of mine once told me, “Mezze has the worst lychee martinis! Never go there for a martini!” Well, I don’t know about that, since I don’t drink, but I go to Mezze for the food, a place that centers on “small plate dining.” While I haven’t been there yet for a full meal, I do like the salpicao wraps (P236): tortilla wrappers enshroud sizable beef tenderloin cubes, which are heavy on the garlic and the pepper while Tabasco sauce plays a starring role in the flavor profile here. There is a creamy sauce that mellows the tang of the spices, as well as the requisite lettuce greens for aesthetics. There are three wraps to a serving, which is good enough for a light lunch or for two shy women to share (though I don’t know any women like that).
Also try the peach salad (P200), which is what my good friend, Kaie, likes to eat when we’re here ”“ it has this most tangy dressing that I can’t get enough of, mostly because the salad doesn’t have enough of it (but that’s relative). In addition, the roasted chestnut soup (P145) is tempting, but don’t order it if you don’t like your soup sweet, chunky, and vinegary.
Mezze Restaurant & Bar
Level 1, Greenbelt 2,
Ayala Center, Makati
You still reading? Get yourself some dessert! (wink)